The Dangers of Giving Your Zip Code to Stores When Shopping

credit cardI’ve done it myself a zillion times: after you swipe your credit card and the cashier bags your new jeans, she asks you for your ZIP code, and you ... tell her! Kind of annoying, but no big deal, right? Well, turns out it actually can be a big deal, and it’s definitely not a good idea.

I realize that I’ve never really thought about WHY stores want that information; I’m more just focused on wanting to get done and OUT (I love new clothes but I hate shopping!). I guess if I gave it any thought, I figured they were interested in knowing where people came from to shop in certain locations. Well, demographics do play a part in why they collect that info, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit watchdog group based in San Diego, California, says that not only do stores use your ZIP code so they can -- duh! -- market to you, but sometimes to they can sell your information to other companies! Basically, if someone has your full name AND your ZIP code, it’s easy to get your home contact information. Combine that with information about what you purchased and where you like to shop, and now they’ve got a “data profile” on you, which means more catalogues and junk mail and even more telemarketer phone calls.

More from The Stir: Your Cellphone Might Soon Become Your Only 'Credit Card'

It’s annoying enough to get unsolicited marketing materials from stores where you like to shop; it’s even worse to know that by giving your ZIP code to one store, you could be unwittingly giving them information to sell your data to other stores! And in two states now, it’s more than just an annoying request, it’s actually illegal: California passed law after a woman complained that Williams-Sonoma used her ZIP to find her home address, and just last week Massachusetts enacted similar legislation.

Ug, sometimes it seems like keeping your information private is a losing battle, especially given how much of our shopping and browsing is done online. But it’s a battle that’s worth fighting -- if only to save us from having to recycle even more junk mail!

Do you usually give out your ZIP code when asked at stores?

Image via moneyblognews/Flickr

online shopping, privacy


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jrphelps jrphelps

I won't any more!

lasombrs lasombrs

I dont think i have shopped at a store that has asked in years

luvsc... luvschocolate

I always say no, same with Email and phone number.  I used to work for a major dept. store that did this and it was out policy not to sell our customers info.  It was just so we could see where our customers lived to determine any new stores.  Or so they told us.  All info is voluntary.


I can definitely understand about wanting to keep your information private when it comes to asking for your zip code/email/phone number, but, to get all up in arms with the cashier is not the way to protest.  Give the person (cashier) a fake zip, email, number and then write to the company you shopped to express your point view regarding the policy.  Yelling/snarling/snapping at the poor cashier is not going to immediately stop the policy.

jkp-buff jkp-buff

How do you avoid giving your zip? A lot of merchant accounts require it when paying by credit card in order to process your payment. It's to prevent fraud by making sure the zip matches your billing address. I know if I had a customer refuse to give their zip, their card would be declined and they'd have to pay another way.

Sweet... SweetMelancholy

Most stores ask for your zipcode when your paying with a card for security reasons. I'd prefer them to ask than not ask. It's always blown my mind to watch people get mad when a cashier asks for a drivers license, zip code, etc when they're paying with a card. I like stores that discourage credit card fraud. Better safe than sorry. If your not paying with a card and they ask that's a whole other story. I don't give out my email or phone # because that's usually the stuff that people give out and drive you crazy with hundreds of annoying emails.

Vegeta Vegeta

Usually the computer needs the billing address zip code if your using a credit card or it won't go through. And if not oh no! A whole piece of junk mail to recycle or a telemarketer call to hang up on! How ever will I get over such trauma!

dekumama dekumama

I've always just assumed it was for security. It never occurred to me it might be used for marketing.

jessi... jessicasmom1

I just make one up as I go ... easier that way

Kami McManus

I don't recall getting asked my zip, just my phone number and I don't give it anymore and I am registered on the DO NOT CALL registry.

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